Maca root is a cruciferous vegetable that grows in Peru the high altitude and harsh conditions of the Andes mountains. Recipes with maca powder can provide many health benefits. Known as a superfood and an adaptogen, maca is energizing, so it’s ideal for breakfast recipes.
Smoothies, lattes, oatmeal, and breakfast grain bowls are all good candidates for a dose of maca powder. Nutty and darkly sweet, it tastes especially nice in breakfast breads like muffins and pancakes. Maca powder is actually considered flour in Peru, where the average person eats about half a pound of maca every day.
Maca’s scientific name is Lepidium meyenii, and it is related to root veggies like radishes and turnips. High in natural sugars, it also contains glucosinolates, which are found in broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. These compounds may protect against cancer and heart disease. (For a complete discussion of glucosinolates found in cruciferous vegetables, read my post on broccoli.)
The dried root is commercially available online and in mainstream and specialty grocery stores. Usually, it’s sold in powder form although extracts and capsules are also available. If the package label says gelatinized, it means the maca powder has been heat-treated and may be easier to digest. In Peru, the bulbous or rectangular maca root is always cooked before it is eaten.
Here is a link to view maca in its many formulations — powder, capsules, extracts. The powder form is my favorite because it’s easy to add to different recipes.
If you live at an altitude above 13,000 feet (4,000 meters), perhaps maca helps you thrive and survive. Known as Peruvian ginseng, maca is reputed to have adaptogenic qualities that help you manage stress.
Maca for physical performance, energy ⚡
Legend has it that the Incans would eat maca before going into battle to give them strength and energy.
Most studies on the benefits of the root have used animal subjects, but a 2020 review of maca studies in the journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry noted that members of a Cusco soccer team experienced gains after taking 1500 mg/day of maca after 60 days.
The team averaged a 10.3% increase in physical performance with a maximal increase in oxygen consumption (VO2max) of 33.6%. Some of the increased performance could simply be a result of training.
Standard endurance training programs with untrained individuals often increase oxygen capacity by 15 to 20%. Up to 40% increases have been noted in people who are genetically predisposed to a high VO2max.
Maca can boost athletic performance in a couple of ways.
1) It combats fatigue: Higher rates or levels of enzymatic activity help with creating power and energy within muscles. Specifically, it increases the activity of the enzymes glutathione peroxidase and creatine kinase. It also increases the production of ATP, your cell’s energy currency.
2) It helps with recovery: It appears to lower the liver’s output of waste products from protein breakdown. It also assists muscles with replenishing the glycogen stores they draw upon for quick energy.
It’s not surprising that athletes turn to maca to boost training and game-day exploits. Unlike other performance-enhancing supplements, maca is legal, and it does not have an uncomfortable crash or jitters, which are downsides to caffeine and other stimulants.
Maca for chronic disease 💛
People with diabetes and/or heart disease may reap health benefits from maca.
In a study of mice with diabetes, maca decreased their inflammation. Since inflammation is a hallmark of type 2 diabetes, maca’s capacity to increase antioxidant activity may punch down inflammatory processes.
Rodents with high triglycerides were fed a high-sugar diet and given maca in research published in Plant Foods for Human Nutrition. Maca supplementation reduced the rise in cholesterol and triglycerides and appeared to decrease blood sugar levels.
It is possible that maca helps glycemic control in diabetes, and it may decrease the buildup of fatty plaques that cause heart disease.
These are rodent studies, however, not experiments with human subjects. Do not rely on maca to counter the effects of a high saturated fat/high sugar diet!
Maca for your brain 🧠
Maca supplementation may improve brain function. When differing doses of maca were given to rats after a stroke, the rats taking the lowest dose showed improvement. Higher doses increased the amount of brain damage.
Maca’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity may protect your brain as well as your heart.
In rodent experiments, black maca in particular improved learning and memory. Researchers believe the improvements were due to the abundant flavonoid compounds in black maca.
There are three colors of maca: black, red, and yellow. The yellow type is typically what is made into flour.
Hormonal effects of maca
One of the adaptogenic effects of maca is that it assists with stress management; it can help with anxiety, depression, and sexual dysfunction. Some practitioners of traditional medicine turn to maca for balancing your hormones.
It is used for fertility and menopausal symptoms. Regular maca intake may reduce hot flashes in some women in the time period immediately before and after menopause. For men, maca may increase sexual desire and performance, and it may improve semen quality.
Maca’s libido-enhancing effect (which may extend to women, also) did not correlate with any change in testosterone or estradiol, and it was not due to changes in depression or anxiety.
Should you use maca?
Most of the rigorous research on maca has been conducted with animals. Human studies are scarce. But, the history of maca for medicinal purposes stretches back to Incan culture in Peru where it has been cultivated for more than 2,000 years, so it is safe to ingest.
As far as side effects go, anyone with a thyroid problem should eat maca sparingly, if at all. It contains goitrogens, which are substances found in cruciferous vegetables that interfere with iodine uptake by the thyroid gland.
Nausea can also result from maca, especially from large doses and raw maca, which is difficult to digest. Many maca powders are ground from raw, dried maca. Because it has been heated, gelatinized maca powder is easier on the GI tract. In Peru, maca is always cooked before it is eaten.
Maca can be consumed to fight fatigue any time of day, but many people prefer to have it in the morning.
If you want to know what color of maca is best for your needs, you can click here to find out more.
How nutritious is maca?
Maca’s amazing nutrition profile earns it a superfood label.
|Maca powder||1 teaspoon (5 g)|
|Total Carbohydrate||4 g|
|Total Sugars||2 g|
|Vitamin C||14.25 mg|
|Niacin (B3)||0.285 mg|
|Vitamin B6||0.06 mg|
The values in this table are for a standard serving of maca root powder, which is a teaspoon. This small amount has about 15% of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for vitamin C, and it contains vitamins B3 (niacin) and B6.
Maca is a mineral powerhouse with almost 10% of the RDA for iron an adult man and half your daily needs for copper in a single teaspoon. It also offers more than 40% of the RDA for manganese, a mineral important for strong bones and cartilage and for energy.
Clearly, it’s a good source of potassium and calcium, containing more calcium per teaspoon (5 g) than milk. Potassium balances dietary sodium and helps keep blood pressure in check. Calcium is important for strong bones and for a healthy heartbeat. The standard American diet is often lacking in these minerals.
Maca also boasts fiber and protein. (There aren’t many foods that offer nearly a gram of protein per teaspoon.)
Here’s a snapshot of maca’s health benefits:
- Adaptogen: Helps with stress management. Improves anxiety and depression.
- Chronic disease: Antioxidant activity lowers inflammation. Possibly helps with glycemic control in diabetes. Better heart health from reductions in cholesterol and triglycerides.
- Cognition: Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity enhances brain function. It may help with learning and memory.
- Hormonal balance: May reduce hot flashes in peri- and post-menopausal women.
- Sexual health: May increase desire in both men and women. Possibly increases fertility and ability for men.
- Stimulant: Supplies energy and may improve athletic performance.
Although not mentioned in this list, maca may also improve skin health. Applied topically, it promotes wound healing at high altitudes and can act as a sunscreen, according to results from two studies.
In yet another experiment, maca extract was employed as an insecticide to kill mosquitoes.
The possible applications of maca are not infinite, but they are copious!
Food + maca
Best of all, naturally sweet maca can be used as a health-boosting ingredient in recipes. Some people describe the flavor as malty or molasses-like. Here are some ideas for how to use maca powder.
- Put a teaspoon into a smoothie with a cup of plain yogurt, half a frozen banana, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, and a teaspoon of honey.
- Add it to a shake made with chocolate or vanilla whey powder so it can help with post-workout recovery!
- Sprinkle half a teaspoon on top of your morning oatmeal along with cinnamon, nuts, and berries.
- Boost your latte with a half teaspoon.
- Swap out a couple of tablespoons of flour for maca powder in your favorite muffin or quick bread.
If you are feeling adventurous, put a tablespoon in your favorite chili or sub it for chocolate in a mole sauce and serve it atop enchiladas! (Macamole?)
Quicker than enchiladas, these morning maca cakes are an energizing weekend breakfast or “brinner,” especially if you exercise in the latter part of the day. Pair the maca cakes with some chicken maple sausage or scrambled eggs if you want more protein. Don’t forget that a side of fruit adds even more tasty nutrition!
Maca Morning Cakes
- griddle, 8-cup liquid measure, medium bowl, dry measuring cups and spoons
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ cup whole wheat flour
- 3/8 cup almond flour
- 2 Tablespoons maca root powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons granulated stevia
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ cups milk Use dairy or choose plant milk if you are vegan. The flavor of maple oat milk is especially nice.
- 1 whole egg Vegans can substitute with 1 Tablespoon ground flax meal + 3 Tablespoons water. Be sure to let the mixture rest for 10-15 minutes.
- 1 egg white For vegan recipe, omit.
- 1 Tablespoon maple syrup
- 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
- In a medium bowl, combine the flours, maca root powder, and remaining dry ingredients. Stir well.
- Pour the milk into a 4- or 8-cup liquid measure. Add the egg (or flax egg) and egg white (if using) and maple syrup. Whisk or use a fork to briskly combine the wet ingredients.
- Add dry ingredients to wet and stir just until all are moistened.
- Let the mixture sit for a few minutes as you heat a griddle or large skillet.
- Pour a generous half cup of pancake batter onto griddle and cook until small bubbles form on the wet side. Flip pancake and cook for a few more seconds.
- Transfer to plate and cover with foil to stay warm (or hand off to be eaten immediately). Continue cooking pancakes until all the batter is used up.
- Serve topped with Greek yogurt and/or syrup.
For more recipes with maca, click here to check out the collection on the Navitas site. Another site that features plenty of maca recipes is from The Maca Team. Here is a link to their maca recipe roundup, which offers seasonal dishes like pumpkin-lentil soup and pumpkin pie — both with maca, of course!
Copyright © 2020 Jani H. Leuschel